"Beneath the stomping country rock of Ben Dukes’ latest single, 'Old Fixer Upper,' is the beating heart of a man who has lived through it all – loss and success, united together in the passage of time." Stacy Zering opens her No Depression story on Dukes with this line, and it couldn't be more dead-on. Unlike the mass of young country singers cropping up today, Dukes is not concerned with pandering to the pop-country vibe. His lyrical content and style bend much more to the outlaws of old, and honky-tonkers like Hank Williams Junior than the frat-boy country style. His music is honest, real (at times a bit too much so) and it is uniquely his own. He is every bit the "Spectacular American Artist" he was dubbed by Late Late Show Host Craig Ferguson.
Old Fixer Upper kicks off Dukes' debut album, "Walkin Thru Hell" by telling us all exactly what we have in store - this album won't just be about grabbing a beer and a girl and taking a ride in a pickup truck. No, this album is going to be about a man who's looking at himself and trying to become more than he is. This echoes the sentiment of a songwriter who, with this album, moved from a corner-bar acoustic player to one who now tours the country playing for packed houses.
The album itself centers around 10 different stories which Dukes says sit perfectly within the theme of the title. "There are times in all of our lives when we feel like we're doing just that - walkin' thru hell. Whether it's during a breakup, following the death of a family member, or suffering through homelessness. Each of these stories has some element of that ... but each one also offers hope. In that, I hope that people come to see the beauty of the struggle in life. We may feel like we're walkin' thru hell, but in the end, we emerge ever stronger as a result."
Hidden within the folds of Dukes' storytelling are truths about the man himself as well. The third track, "My Old Man" has quickly become a fan favorite at his shows, an odd label for a down-tempo song. Still, the story that it tells is one that resonates with many listeners. The song speaks to the relationship Dukes had with his father, whose death sparked his career in music. He seems to paint the picture that he and his father were quite different, and that he regrets that fact. However, the final line of the track tells us that the faith his "old man" held to is ever-present in his own life as well. Before singing this song at his shows, he always relays the story of where it came from, telling the crowds that he hopes his father's spirit lives on (at least in part) through him. "He was The Man, as far as I was concerned. Tough, caring, giving - traits I aspire to, but don't know that I fully realize just yet."
It won't take very long, though, for listeners to find those exact traits in Dukes' songs. Ben Dukes is a man who cares about others, and who is tough enough to give them the truth from his soul, in the form of his songs. In the years that have passed since his father's death and his subsequent initial foray into songwritng ("I Can't Pray"), Dukes has continued to grow as a songwriter and a performer. He has toured from coast to coast, including mulitple appearances at Austin Texas's South-By-Southwest Festival. He has appeared twice on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. His music has been featured on GAC, and "Walkin Thru Hell" has been nominated by the Hollywood Music in Media Awards as Country Song of the Year (2013).
Dukes is currently working on his sophomore album, likely to release in the spring of 2015. When asked about any spoilers Dukes simply responded "It ain't gonna be too much like what's out there right now ... at least, I sure as hell hope not." The sentiment echoes the love-hate relationship he has with the genre in which he performs. Who knows...perhaps his voice will be one of the few that can crack through the bro-fest on country radio and give the people what they've always wanted: Three Chords, and the Truth.